Havoc in the hedgerows: The truth about life in the country

You might think that life in the country is peaceful and quiet, but even in the sticks, noisy neighbours can spoil the serenity of your pastoral paradise. Graham Norwood on the worst offenders – and how to avoid them
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The Independent Online

Mention the countryside and you think of natural silence broken only by birdsong. But many new initiatives have undermined the notion of the British rural idyll in recent years.

Just ask Lynn Hall. She lives in the east Devon village of Branscombe, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Many of its 500 population enjoy a view over Lyme Bay, but Hall's neighbour is an airfield.

"I'm not anti-aircraft, and not anti-personal freedom," she says. "But as an AONB, we're supposed to have the same protection as a national park." There have been two small accidents at the airfield, one of which ended with an aircraft crashing into a tree. "If you wanted to buy in the village, would you after knowing that?" she asks.

The airfield's new owner, David Hayman, a financial adviser, is permitted to use it 28 days a year, but he has applied for permission for more than 500 take-offs or landings annually. The application will be considered in August, but there has already been a well-publicised local spat. "The opposition comes from one or two people who built their homes or moved in long after the airfield arrived and now claim they speak for the entire village," Hayman insists.

Relatively few countryside properties abut airfields, but many rural areas face similar problems.

Anaerobic Digesters

In The Archers, some of the key characters have recently been fighting against the installation of an AD (anaerobic digestion) device, in which farm and household food waste is broken down by micro-organisms in an oxygen-less environment to make compost. They believe that the extra lorry traffic, fumes and noise could destroy their quiet village life. ADs are equally unpopular in reality. Stanford parish council in Kent claims that a proposed AD in the area that would process 95,000 tons of waste a year would produce a 16 per cent rise in heavy traffic, generate emissions next to a café, spew waste particles over the village and bring down property values with its 40ft-high silos.

Andrew Needham of Biogen, which operates an AD in Bedfordshire, insists that the downsides are exaggerated. "Most [ADs] are on farms or industrial parks and almost no one lives nearby," he says. "If an AD is constructed and operated properly, it has filters to remove odours and a casing to minimise noise. You could stand immediately outside and have a conversation."

Go-Karts, Scrambling and Helicopters

According to the Office of National Statistics, there are 60,000 farms in England considered large enough to occupy a farmer at least 50 per cent of the time. Some 30,000 of these farms have diversified, with their land used for events such as gymkhanas or, more controversially, weekend motorbike scrambling or summer helicopter rides for tourists.

It is possible to block a permanent change in land use. For example, the former Formula 1 driver Nigel Mansell's bid to develop a site in the West Country into a go-kart track was rejected by planners after 850 complaints, a 650-person march and a personal appeal from the Location, Location, Location star Kirstie Allsopp.

But if the change is not permanent, then the farm owner need not seek formal consent. "People buying on or near agricultural land should be aware of the General Permitted Development Order, which allows farmers the right to use their land for up to 28 days a year for any purpose, without the need for planning permission," explains Philip Selway of the Buying Solution, a firm that shortlists homes for buyers.

"I was recently researching for a client and found that a farmer was proposing to run motocross on his land over three separate weekends," Selway says. "My client, who was looking for peace and quiet, decided he could not proceed."

Polytunnels and industrial-style agriculture

As farmers modernise in order to lower their costs and grow crops for prized supermarket clients, so the countryside changes, too. New crops include oilseed rape, which has a very pervasive smell; some fruits are grown in polytunnels, which can be an eyesore. Intensive harvesting also often involves erecting large dormitory tents to house the temporary pickers.

"Potential buyers can pick up clues from the environment," says James Greenwood, of Stacks, another buying agency. "Hoops for polytunnels often remain out of season. Tracks – animal or mechanical – will give you an idea of the type and amount of traffic across a field or an area."

Wind Farms

This is a quandary for the liberal environmentalist living in the country: would you want them near your home? They are loud and extremely large: 13 turbines recently rejected by planners at Wadlow in south Cambridgeshire would each have been taller than Big Ben, and visible over an area of 300 square miles. Research by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, however, suggests that turbines do not necessarily damage house prices in their vicinity over the long term.

How to spot a problem countryside neighbour

*Do some research on your neighbours – if a farmer is struggling and selling off herds, he or she may be looking to rent or sell their land for motorbike scrambling, radio masts or paintball weekends

*Take a walk to look for clues such as spent cartridges from commercial game shoots, quad-bike tracks, empty paintball pellets and the like

*Read the local press – these publications will often run advertisements for upcoming events or letters from concerned locals about potentially disruptive uses of land in the area